Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas is Over!

Well, it’s done for another year – the commercial side of Christmas anyway.

Now we enter the Octave of Christmas on the religious and spiritual side of things. A chance to savor the coming of God during the period leading up to Epiphany, the day that marks both the baptism of Jesus and serves as a remembrance of His being revealed to the world through the testimony of God Himself. And so, for those attuned to the rhythms of the church year, we moved through Advent as we awaited His coming into the world, and through the Christmas season wherein we celebrate His accomplished in-breaking, to Epiphany when we celebrate His revealing to the world through His ministry, and then into Lent, anticipating His death as well as ours, and so into Easter, another and perhaps His most powerful revealing in power as Savior of the world, and as our hope of living with Him forever.

And so we travel seasons with our focus repeatedly on Jesus, His coming to save us, and His acceptance of us to participate in His life forever. Later, we will enter the Pentecost season, the coming of God in the power of the Spirit, empowering disciples to live and to die in the power of God in ministry to the world.

And so the rhythm of the church year goes, making a complete cycle of God blessing the world, inviting us to live and die with Him as we live and move in accordance with His will for the world. Finally, at least in the US, we end up back at Thanksgiving. A time it seems when we can once again thank God for His multitude blessings, the chiefest of which is Jesus Himself, and the opportunity He gives us to be His hands, His mouth, His feet as we allow Him to direct our ways in blessing the world out of the blessings He has given us.

I trust that as each of us moves through these seasons, God will give us the grace of reminding us of who we are called to be, of what we are called to do, and of our calling to empty ourselves for the world just as our God has done. May you each rest peacefully in the knowledge that what He has promised, He will complete; that as we live for Him, we willingly give up ourselves for our friends, our family, and those we do not know; that we do this in the assured hope that we live in and with the God, the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer of the world.


Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Inspiration

Most Christians would agree that the writers of Scripture were inspired by God when they wrote the autographs. While we may argue whether the Holy Spirit dictated the actual words, or the thoughts and ideas, inspiration in some form is usually not debated. Inspiration is a critical aspect of Scripture, imbuing it with a divinely-appointed importance for the church. We know what God has said because we believe that what we have received was inspired by our God. Scripture is the very words of God – in some form.

But few Christians today would claim to be inspired in their daily lives, or in their church lives. To claim to be inspired is a claim that will receive considerable scrutiny if not out right rejection by the vast majority of Protestant Christendom.

While I don’t know that we should claim inspiration for every idea or thought that travels through our minds, I am equally doubtful that we do not receive inspiration as we attempt to live and minister as God would have us. If we believe that God in the Holy Spirit is active in the world, if we believe He is active in our lives, why is it that we shy away from acknowledging that Christians are inspired, and inspired in the same ways that the church fathers were?

How many of us have heard of, or have actually experienced the working of the Spirit in our ministry and every day lives? How many preachers, how many counselors, how many shepherds have found the right words, of either comfort or instruction, come to them at just the right time? How many of us have experienced a passage of Scripture, or a turn of verse, seemingly appear from nowhere just when we need them?

I believe God continues to inspire Christians today. I don’t know that He reveals new truths, but revealing previously unknown ideas is not the full definition of inspiration. Jesus tells His disciples to simply go, and God will not only provide their needs, but will also bring to their minds the words they have heard. Do we not believe that God does essentially the same things for us today?

Those who were promised divine inspiration were those who lived in, and conversed with God on a regular basis, and those who were engaged in God’s work in the world. Inspiration is not promised to those who do not seek God, who wish to use the inspiration for their own gain, for those who are not engaged in the work of God. In contrast though, it is clear that New Testament Christians were promised the presence of God in ways more manifest than simply having the Spirit. The Spirit worked in them, and with them to provide the right words, the necessary food, the physical protection, and the spiritual guidance.

If that is what God did for first century Christians, why do we believe He does less today, especially in light of our own or others’ experiences that He does. Is it not inspiration when we experience the movement of God in our lives? I can think of no reason to believe that the power that works in us is different than that which worked in the disciples.

If we pray for guidance, if we pray for assistance while ministering, and we believe and experience the Spirit’s leading and help, we must believe the Spirit provides such things to us. If the Spirit does those things, we experience inspiration in similar ways that those who wrote Scripture experienced it. In short, we are inspired.

This realization has implications for the way we live our lives. It is no longer sufficient to simply hope we can remember passages, or that somehow we will come up with the right words or the right act for a situation. We must understand that we actually have God with us, inspiring us with His Spirit. This is heady and scary stuff, but the conclusion is inescapable. Our words and our behaviors are inspired – prompted, guided, shaped by God’s manipulation of our memories, our emotions, our hands, and our tongues. The effect is the same as that experienced by the writers of Scripture, and those of whom we read in the New Testament.

When we realize this, when we get our minds around the reality of God with us in this intimate way, it should cause us to be more cognizant of who we are, of who lead us, and for whom we speak and act. We truly become the hands and mouths of God, expressing God’s words, and doing God’s work in our daily worlds. This is not cause for bragging, but for increased humility. It should cause us to live closer to God, to change our minds so that they seek His will more closely, to speak with God more deeply and more frequently.

The next time you’re tempted to say that someone’s behavior or speech is inspired, you might just be right.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Wake Up!

The following is the communion reflection given on the first Sunday of Advent, 2007.

Romans 13.11-14 reads like this:

“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (NIV)

This is an interesting passage for communion but we will get to that a bit later. First let’s read the previous pericope. Verses eight through ten read thusly:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (NIV)

Here Paul says that we have one debt and that is to love one another. He lists some commandments and finally says all of these and any other commandment that we may be able to find are all summed up in one, to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus says in another place that the Law and the prophets hand off of the Greatest and the Second Commandment, both calling us to love – God and neighbors.

It is important to note that this love is not simply doing “no harm to its neighbor,” but that this love is proactive rather than passive. It isn’t enough to simply not to hurt others, but our love must propel us to act in their behalf. The memorial we are about to remember is a clear indicator of that principle. God didn’t simply not kill us, but rather He sent His Son who died for us. It is this proactive love that we remember and that we must make our own.

Now we come to the actual reading for today, and the aspect that seems a bit odd for a communion reflection. Paul is going to end up encouraging his readers to clothe themselves with Christ – to own Jesus, His life, His death.

Advent season is a season of expectation, of looking for God, of waiting for His coming into the world. But the expectation also includes a receiving or an accepting of that for which we wait. It is that receiving of God that must speak to us, and which obligates us to some responsibility.

And here we have the part of this passage that seems odd for a communion reflection. Paul tells his readers to wake up because salvation is closer than it was when they first believed. These are Christians Paul is writing and telling to wake up.

Many of us who have been keeping this memorial for forty years or so can simply take this memorial without thinking about it. We’ve always done this on Sunday and so we continue – it’s expected, it’s what we do. When we do that, we fail to recognize our God in the memorial. We cannot allow ourselves to let this feast become routine. We must, as Paul encourages his readers, wake up because our salvation is closer today than when we believed.

We are told in another place that we dare not presume on the patience of God. That to delay responding to God because we have more time is in itself sin. We are called to believe, to own God so much that we live in expectation of Him, and in Him – all the time. When we take of this memorial, we must do so fully cognizant of what we are doing, what God has done, and who we are called to be. If we have begun to slumber, we must wake up and live in the salvation that we enjoy, clothed with Christ.
Delivered at Albuquerque, the first Sunday of Advent, 2007

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